My Sisters Brothers - Strays
My Sisters Brother features a revolving cast of contributors, all helping founder TJ bring his songs to life. Strays is My Sisters Brother second album and features nine tracks of folk indie rock with punk and grunge elements.
I was impressed with the songwriting. The arrangements are complex and unique and TJ brings a quirky element to the overall sound with his stylistic indie vocals. The lyrics are thoughtful and poetic, yet presented in a grungy, raw way.
The opening track “Bible Blues” is a little perplexing as a stand-alone track but introduces you to My Sisters Brother’s whimsical folky take on songwriting. There are some retro Mamas and the Papas type vocal harmonies that are both endearing and refreshing to hear on an indie rock album. The next couple of tracks had a distinct punk vibe that was fun and youthful, all the while keeping the stylistic arrangements and complex melodies.
One of my favorites was “In the Dirt With Friends” which had a dark edge to it with trippy guitar solos and a more solid rock feel. I also loved “Name” which was playful and catchy yet still had small elements of hardcore grunge and punk.
Strays was a breath of fresh air. The songwriting is unique and new and the arrangements keep things interesting. I loved the blend of punk, grunge and folk. TJ has a really deep understanding of what works with what. He mixes things in ways that shouldn’t sound good in theory but end up sounding fresh and “now." The album was a really fun listen and I look forward to future work.
Color of Rhythm - Flotiaan
Jordan Auber (handpan/vocals/midi instruments), Anton Serrats (bass/synths), Matt Compo (bass/vocals), Taylor Mackall (ukulele) and Owen Dudley (guitar) are Color of Rhythm. They recently released an EP entitled Flotian.
Let me start off by saying the music is exceptional. It’s this meld of organic and electronic instrumentation which creates a meditative almost zen like experience. There is a dynamic rhythmic quality that feels fluid and filled with energy starting with the first track “Blooming.” The percussive elements immediately wash over you like a serene mist. I was on board. The track does not fall into new age tropes and doesn't feel cheesy like I’m listening to something in a spa. As the track progresses it builds but slowly and never feels contrived. There are some exceptional melodic transitions that happen along the way. What a great track.
Up next is “Old Friend (feat. Owen Dudley)” and here is where I start to have mixed thoughts because of the vocals. Their music is so unique and captivating that the focal center of the vocals took me away from that. Once the vocals came into the mix it's all I could really concentrate on. The vocals are somewhere between rapping and an open mic poetry session. To their credit they are dispersed and don’t follow a typical verse/chorus/verse structure. One more thing to note here is the vocals especially the rapping gives the music an entirely different vibe. The meditative almost transcendent nature of “Blooming” felt lost on “Old Friend.”
There are vocals on “With Two (feat. Taylor Mackall)” but I felt they were implemented much better into the mix and most importantly didn’t outshine the music. It was like any other element which adds the brimming psychedelia and zeal. The groove at around two minutes makes is fantastic.
“Blooming (wowflower remix)” sounds like Aphex Twin had a stab at it. I really enjoyed it but the IDM aspect of the song went up.
At the end of the day I really enjoyed the EP. I just think they need to be careful about how they implement vocals into their style of music which is captivating all on its own. Recommended.
Sunrose - Cosmic Horizon
Byron Bay, Australia is home to a four-piece psych/dream pop band called Sunrose and their latest album is Cosmic Horizon. The influences for the music has very little to do with the work of others and more to do with all the components of the known universe. Nature, human interaction, the rotation of the Earth, it's all in there somehow, and while that's very deep, it's still plenty of fun.
One thing I definitely appreciate with this album is how appropriate the name Cosmic Horizon is. I expected an adventure that would take me off the planet and into the dark void, and that's certainly a part of what you get. The dark vastness of space is openly embraced and communicated through the unconventional structure of the songs. Sometimes you don't know how you got to a point in a track and you really don't care.
The music and the vocals are interesting; they sometimes seem to be at odds and then they slowly come to an agreement and make these very cool climaxes that are fantastic. There were many times where I had to check what track I was on because they blend into one another so easily. However this is expected from the genre.
The grievance I have with this album is a need for editing, I ran into this issue on several of the tracks, especially when things slow down. One minute I'm on this crazy ride and then they hit the brakes and just kind of hang out a little too long and then I'm not as interested anymore. I honestly think a trimming of five to ten seconds could have made all the difference.
The production for the album gives a touch of nostalgia for the ’60s psych scene in the best way. Mixing and mastering was okay. I admit I did feel like I had to dig for vocals and other musical elements at times. I hate the feeling that I'm missing out on something, and unfortunately that happened more than a few times with this album. I know it's a tricky balance to achieve that vintage sound while letting everyone shine, but it has been done.
The lack of adherence to traditional track construction gives Sunrose a refreshing edge. They embody the psychedelic rule breaking that was essential to the movement in the ’60s. I can see a band like this procuring a diverse and cult like following. This is one of those bands where a live album would be essential because imagine I it's never the same performance twice. I appreciate their intensity and willingness to be so free flowing with their format. People who would be interested in this music are those who like good rock and can stand to step outside their comfort zone a little bit. The album is worth listening to. There's a lot in there could tickle anyone's fancy.
Nick Hours - Sleep Through the Week
Nick Hours is a project fronted by Nick Rattray based in Oakland. Sleep Through the Week follows their debut album A Peach released in 2015. The sound on this album is an interesting blend of indie rock and experimental pop and was meant to capture the “moment in indie rock where everyone suddenly realized that some of the sounds of ’80s light rock were actually incredible, and started to recontextualize them in a contemporary aesthetic.” I’d say this description fits perfectly and I found myself having almost a deja vu type of feeling listening to each track, even though the sound was completely original.
The album opened with the title track “Sleep Through the Week” which had a lazy mellow vibe and a slow hypnotizing beat. I love Rattray’s vocals. They’re simple yet unique with a perfect indie tone. I also loved the blend of indie and retro light rock vibes. It makes for a smooth fun listen.
The second track “First Date, Outside” had the same mellow melodies but some fun additions like horns and a cool stealthy feel. “I Still Need You” had more of an experimental pop sound with sexy female vocals that I absolutely loved. The song went on a little too long for me, but I really dug the fade-out ending. The next couple of tracks, “Hidden” and “Sun of July” took a little bit of a more ambient turn with layers of tones and harmonies.
The final track “Color Kind Sweet” felt a little R&B to me with a different female vocalist with a very deep tone to her voice and a jazz-like complexity to the melodies. All the layers of harmonies towards the end got a little chaotic and distracting, but I still really liked the song.
I loved Sleep Through the Week. The sound is fresh yet nostalgic and the style is accessible to all sorts of musical tastes. The songs were cool and funky with catchy beats and singable lyrics. I will definitely be looking forward to future work.
Mayor Owl - The Creature King
I was listening to The Creature King by Mayor Owl which is the solo project for Ryan Solomon and I started reading the linear notes. It said “This album kicked the shit out of me in every sense of the phrase.” I started to think about it and thought that's the way it should be. If an album is easy to make then you are doing something wrong. Funny enough I was listening to a Thom Yorke interview a few days later who echoed the same sentiment about making an album. Suffice it to say you can tell how much effort, time and thought was put into these songs from the songwriting to production.
Solomon said some of his influences were The National, Tom Waits, The Pixies and Nick Cave. I would argue that you could hear each one of those artists to some degree in his music. In fact I picked up on Tom Waits and The National prior to reading about his influences.
Up first is “Christmas” which is one hell of a song. The two aspects that really jumped to me were the pounding drumming (which continues to be an integral element of the songs) and vocals. I loved how dynamic the vocals were. It is quite powerful especially when he delivers the line “Oh thank god that the end is here, finally.”
Luckily “Christmas” is no fluke. The exceptional level of songwriting and delivery stay consistent. The title track is infectious, hopeful and the vocals and drumming are again the elements that got most of my attention. Some of that Tom Waits/Nick Cave influence shines through on “Hobble” while the low baritone of Matt Berninger is more evident on “Machine.”
“Little Arms” was a clear highlight. “Ghosts” reminded me of a very obscure band called Frog Eyes while the closer “Anchors Aweigh” was experimental, theatric piece that felt a little out of place at the end of the album.
This is a great album overall and only had some very minor issues. There is so much emotion pouring through the songs that I was won over almost instantly and will playing this one again for my own pleasure. Don’t pass this one up.
Bears For Years - Ursa Major
Bears For Years consists of the songwriting duo Gina Monafo and Patrick Barry, Matt Ohanian on bass and Joel Silloway on drums who replaced Andy Connors after his tragic passing in February of 2016. The band is based out of Boston, MA. Their debut album Ursa Major is a unique blend of progressive rock/pop reminiscent of the ‘70s and lounge style music.
The album opened with “Cornelius” where I was introduced to Monafo’s clear pretty voice. Her vocals are definitely appealing. There’s nothing fancy about them but she has a crisp high tone to her voice that has a nice contrast to the rock edge in most of the tracks. The track almost tricked me into thinking this was a mellow indie rock band but it quickly took an interesting turn. The second track “Life Like Fire” started with a country rock vibe but then become more and more theatrical as it went on. The harmonies were a little distracting and weird, and I found myself a little confused.
The next couple of tracks began to develop a pattern - similar vocal melodies and dramatic vocals and lyrics. Although I really loved the retro lounge-esque style of the vocals, I didn’t quite get the ’70s prog rock vibe they were going for. Most of the tracks came off more as musical theater that sometimes felt a tad cheesy and forced to me.
However, the heartfelt instrumental track “Song for Andy” for their late band member was beautiful and ambient. I also loved “Phantom Residence” which had more of an authentic jazz sound and a sexy vocal melody that stood out from the rest of the tracks.
Bears For Years has an original sound but there are definitely some kinks to work out. The songs all sounded very similar with a couple of exceptions. I loved Monafo’s voice but the vocal melodies were occasionally redundant. I think she has the range and capability to go further. I get the vibe they were going for but occasionally missed it's mark. I will however be looking forward to future work.
Unknown Artist - the unheard tapes
The Unheard Tapes by Unknown Artist were originally recorded between 1984 and 1989 and re-released this year. I have no idea how much of this is hyperbole but according to some info he obtained, “After recording these tapes, he graduated from UC Santa Cruz (with a degree in math), sold all of his instruments and wandered the earth never to make music again.”
Going into this album it was hard to even approach it as an album for a number of reasons. First of all there are twenty six songs with no filler. It’s an intense collection of material that I had to break up into sections because I tried my best but couldn't get through all the songs in one sitting. The other thing is the recording quality and volume differs from track to track. It’s all unequivocally lo-fi but there are levels to this genre. In all honesty I think these songs should be passed on to a professional mastering engineer to make the songs at a more average volume as well as clean up some of the muddiness the is occurring between 200 - 400hz.
As for the music it felt a little ahead of its time in some regards. Either way the music that was being played was not being recognized by mainstream culture. I heard elements to some degree or another of now musical legends like Sonic Youth, New Order, Primal Smith, The Smiths and a couple more. Remember back then you had to have your finger on the pulse of what was happening by word of mouth, the few print music magazines, going to shows or whatever the guy at the record store recommended. On that note it's a little difficult to label this music much of anything because of the disparate styles that are presented.
Take for instance a clear highlight entitled “Unheard Silence” which seems to take some influence from bands as far ranging as The Jesus and Mary Chain to INXS. Now compare that to “skin” which is based on different aesthetics and textures revolving around pretty guitar picking.
On an album with this many tracks you’re bound to have some highlights and some tracks that aren't as striking and that is no exception here. The Joy Division-esque “motionless roadside” immediately had my attention. At the end of the day people will have different preferences. Hence I will encourage you to explore the album.
As a child of the ’80s this was a nostalgic ride for me even if I didn’t get into many of the bands that influenced the sound much later in life. I’m glad these tapes resurfaced but I have to wonder if the man who is supposably wandering the earth ever did.
Crossed Keys is a punk band from Philadelphia, PA. I’m Just Happy That You’re Here is their debut EP. Looking to melodic ‘90s acts for inspiration, including bands like Samiam and Lifetime, the record is full of raucous, invigorating punk rock.
“A Single Action” kicks off the proceedings, meeting every expectation for a great track in this vein—drummer Steve Roche lays out propulsive beats, while bassist Andrew Wellbrock offers a melodic bass part at a blistering speed. This gives guitarists Beau Brendley and Dave Adoff room for classic guitar interplay, and they even take the opportunity to get a bit loose and discordant, but never in a showy way. The sad, yearning energy in Joshua Alvarez’s vocals is the final piece of the puzzle—with a commanding presence that doesn’t slide into sheer aggression, it’s just the half-in-half-out vibe that this particular brand of punk needs.
“Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” offers something a bit more anthemic. The darker riffs of the verse, along with a bright, eminently shout-able chorus, create a nice push and pull reminiscent of great punk rock. The energy continues to mount verse after verse, with subtle changes in the guitar parts making a kind of constant forward motion. It’s great songwriting, especially when the band sticks the landing on the breakdown.
“Vital Signs” has an explosive, major-key vibe. Clocking in at less than two minutes, it’s a classic piece of upbeat punk with a familiar progression, but the band inhabits it with their skillful performances. Not only is this song a nice shakeup for a record already brimming with darker emotional energy—it also is another sign that the band genuinely loves the music that they’re making. It’s hard to deliver this kind of performance by phoning it in.
“Daytime Television” has a deliberate tempo with a wordy lyric that gives the track somewhat of a Jawbreaker feel, particularly in the resigned emotional content. “I can’t talk about the stars / (I don’t know anything about them),” an excellent vocal call-and-response, speaks to the disconnect in feeling mired in the doldrums of everyday life. Finding that specific, complex emotion in a relatively short song is an impressive feat.
“Eastbound to Frankford” begins with a plaintive lead guitar wailing over a churning mid-tempo beat. Operating in nostalgia mode, Alvarez sings “yesterday is far more interesting to me” as he tells a story of an aging house-show scenester, reassuring that “you are more than just your years.” With some great “whoa-ohs” and a vicious guitar break, this is another high watermark for emotional expression on the EP.
“Notebooks” wraps up the record, starting with a peppier progression and some surprisingly fast riffing. The chorus begs to be screamed in a basement somewhere, with the perfect gut-punch of vocal harmony. The bridge, too, brings just the right amount of sadness and desperation to temper the triumphant energy of the rest of the track. With the rhythm section tearing into the track at full blast, the guitars at their crunchiest, it’s a great note to end the record on; it seems like a victory lap, letting the band leave it all on the field.
With stylistic and emotional cues drawn from some of the finest punk rock, Crossed Keys deliver an invigorating, vital set on their debut EP. I’m Just Happy That You’re Here brings years of collective experience as musicians to a sharp point, but manages to stay fresh and fun all the way throughout. If you ever need to raise a fist and shout along, here’s your absolutely guilt-free pleasure.
Toni Pons is an artist located in Spain who recently released The First Of Many To Come. The album contains fourteen songs of what you could consider experimental songs that still contain a number of memorable melodies. I thought the album felt a bit scattered conceptually and stylistically and I was having a hard time viewing it as one piece of art as I ran through the tracks. I suppose you could make the argument that all the songs are experimental but after that it's harder to hear how the puzzle pieces go together.
The experimental nature of the album is ultimately what made this album rewarding to listen to. There are hooks on occasion but they are far and in between. He opens with “There’s a sign” which has a laid back jazz appeal with some psychedelic but is also one of the more straightforward numbers.
The vibe and energy shifts with the percussion heavy “Dither” which already shoots the album in a new direction. There are vocal samples with what sounds like digital horns and organs. I was somewhat reminded of the under appreciated duo The Books. We then submerge in depths of murky atmosphere with “Individuationis” which had a fantastic driving beat and distorted vocals. “It's time” sounds like you are watching a children's program during the tail end of an acid trip while “Solar Dog” has some catchy melodies not unlike a band like Deerhunter.
One of the coolest and inventive grooves was on “The Runner's High.” “Locura Chillial” could be considered the centerpiece. The vibe is very chill but not much changes in the six minutes and because of that it felt like an ambient piece. “Relax” is about as avant garde as it gets and would work in a David Lynch film.
Artists like Motion Sickness of Time Travel and Mountains have been doing similar things on their albums. One thing I encourage Pons to do that I hear with the aforementioned artists is to let the songs breathe a bit more. There are some extremely interesting ideas here that I feel get cut short and don't get fully explored. These aren't pop songs with hooks that you will be singing in the shower. There are so many ideas on this album that I felt overwhelmed. I would have preferred that five to eight of his best and fully explored possibilities.
Overall, there is a great amount of potential here. I was impressed with a number of the tracks and his ability to combine disparate elements on a single song.
Nick P - Full Detox EP
Nick P is a writer, musician, filmmaker and producer hailing from Alabama who recently released Full Detox. I have to admit I wonder about artists who wear this many hats and if they are able to be great at one thing.
The songs on Full Detox are very straightforward rock songs. There are some decent hooks here and there but no real surprises along the way. The two songs that stuck out to me were “Half Past Fall” and “Tell-Tale Signs.” I thought the most impressive aspect was the guitar work. I liked his voice as well but there were multiple times where he gets off key.
As an engineer myself I feel it would be a disservice to not mention what the artist can improve in this area. The songs are extremely lo-fi but there are things you can do even when you are recording at home to improve the sound. By far the most important thing here is that there are so many harsh high frequencies within the 5k to 10k range that your ears will start to ring even at a moderate volume.
Some of this can be rectified by using a Low Pass Filter and boosting frequencies between 150 - 300 hz on individual elements or the entire track to get some warmth. There is almost no separation between the instrumentation to where the song simply sounds like a sheet of white noise. The other thing to note that was difficult to hear was the drum sound which sounded programmed yet also borderline non-existent at points.
In all honesty these songs need so much work in the production and engineering department that I think the artist needs to work with a producer or engineer who has more experience in the studio on his next release. I think it would be a beneficial learning experience as well.
The artist has some guitar and songwriting ability but there is a lot that would need to happen for the recording to be competitive with popular artists. He seems to be passionate about music and I hope to hear him evolve and come back stronger.
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